Why changing culture at the Commonwealth Bank is the new CEO's top priority

Matt Comyn, chair Catherine Livingstone, and outgoing CEO Ian Narev. Image: Supplied

Matt Comyn, the new Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth, has a brief to fix culture at Australia’s biggest bank.

The advantage of appointing an insider to head the bank is that there will be no pause to the internal push at the bank to work on culture, according to Catherine Livingstone, the Chair of CBA.

The key areas for change are operation and compliance risk management, two areas of failure which led to the money laundering scandal.

“That’s where we have not performed as we should have,” she told an analyst briefing today. “It’s in those two areas that there will be a focus.”

The Commonwealth Bank has been hit by a series of scandals, the latest seeing the bank in court accused of breaching the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act over combined cash deposits of $624.7 million.

The CEO, along with the other major banks, has been called before a parliamentary committee to face questioning on the culture within Australia’s big banks. And now the banks also face a royal commission.

Livingstone says Comyn stood out during the intensive global search for a new CEO.

“In conducting the search we established some very clear criteria and we stuck to those,” she says. “And on all of those Matt came out compellingly as the best candidate.”

Livingstone says many talk about culture and the need for culture.

“Culture is not one big thing,” she says.

“Culture is made up of quite a number of elements. If you look at the Commonwealth Bank, there are very strong aspects of culture which we would seek for Matt to encourage and nurture.

“However, do recognise and we have acknowledged that there are other aspects of culture which need improvement. They relate specifically to operating procedure and regulatory compliance risk. They are the areas where we have been focused and where are plan of action is.

“For that program to continue, one of the advantages of an internal appointment is that no momentum will be lost in terms of the various remediation activity that we are undertaking.”

Livingston wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics of the anti-money laundering scandal before the court and also wouldn’t comment on the fact that the issue arose in retail banking, headed by the new CEO.

“We regard this as an organisation wide matter for which we all take a collective responsibility,” she says.

However, she says Comyn has been very involved in the remediation program at the bank.

Comyn said: “I will look to accelerate that.”

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